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Students define “What is a hero?” to determine “Who is a hero?” by those criteria in this kinetic activity and on-line essay assignment


Language Arts, Social Studies  


9, 10, 11, 12  

Title – Who Is Your Hero
By – Eric Thiegs
Primary Subject – Language Arts
Secondary Subjects – Social Studies
Grade Level – 9-12


      Discussions about “heroes” are constant themes across history and literature texts. Within every novel, memoir or history lesson, heroes emerge to perform great deeds or challenge our view of the world. But wait… have you ever stopped to wonder, “

What is a hero? What characteristics define a hero? Is there a universal definition or are heroes defined by the situation or context that made them a hero

      ?” This lesson plan is designed to integrate into a variety of History or English units as teachers pose a surprisingly complex question in the simplest of terms, “

What is a Hero?

Objective: Students will be able to define “hero” and examine heroes in their own lives. Materials:

Anticipatory Set:

      Answer these questions and perform the following pre-discussion activities:
    • Independent :  Ask each student independently define the word “hero” on a note card.  Leave this question as open ended as possible.  As a part of this, ask them to write down the specific characteristics of a hero.
    • Partner Share :  Pair students up to share with a partner for 2-3 minutes.


      With the anticipatory set complete, engage the class in the following “Hero Walk” activity:
    1. Hero Walk Group Activity:   Have the entire class stand up and separate into two groups with each group standing across from each other on opposite sides of the room (you’ll need to clear desks for this activity).  Using the Stage of Life Hero List (partially listed below), select various groups, individuals, or relationships from the list and read them to the class.  If your students feel that the name you read is a “hero,” they should cross the room to the other side.  This activity gets students to physically commit to applying their hero definition to the names read from the Hero List (which was complied from over 200 hero essays during Stage of Life’s Hero Writing Contest in September 2010). 

Heroes from Stage of Life’s Hero Writing Contest
your mother Shakira lifeguards Bruce Lee Ash Ketcham
Hayley Williams Tyra Banks Michael Jackson member of the military Nick Jonas
grandparents Lady Gaga Mahatma Gandhi Sir Terry Pratchett a brother or sister
anyone with a disability teacher or coach Daniel “Soupy” Campbell girlfriend, boyfriend, or friend an aunt, uncle, or cousin
Bobby Bowden Britney Spears Michael Phelps Maurice Jones Drew Ellen DeGeneres
Walt Disney a cancer fighter Coach Nick Saban President Barack Obama Dwayne Wade
Oprah Winfrey Eminem Sidney Poitier Mokoto Nagano Hayao Miyazaki
Todd Beamer
(flight 93 hero on 9/11)
Delta Force Snipers Dobby
(Harry Potter House Elf)
Friedl Dicker-Brandeis
(concentration camp educator)
Someone Always There for Me
Tupac Shakur your father Finn the Human Ayrton Senna You

    • Tip:  You can be generic in your selection of certain heroes from the list, e.g. ask, ” Is your boyfriend or girlfriend a hero ?”  or ” Is a US Marine a hero ?” in addition to asking the specific, ” Is Lady Gaga a hero ?”
  • Note:  The Hero Walk can also be done by asking your students to simply stand or sit at their desks during the reading of the list.  For those that feel a person named is a hero, they should stand.

Learning Checks:

      After the Hero Walk activity, class discussion begins:
    1. Class Discussion:   After students have taken their seats, lead your class in a discussion asking questions such as…
      1. Based on this activity, would you change your definition of hero from your note card?
      2. If so, what would you change?
      3. Which heroes from the list were the most controversial?
      4. However, which names of heroes did we have the most in common?  For instance, nearly the entire class walked across the room when I read the name ________ and _________.  Why?
    2. Class Definition:   Next, write the word “hero” on the board.  With the last question from the class discussion still fresh, now ask the class to list characteristics of a hero upon which everyone seems to agree and begin writing that characteristic/trait list on the board.
      1. To Do:  Pass around a second note card to your students and ask them to copy the class-generated list of “hero characteristics” from the board.
      2. Tip: Reference names from the Hero List that the entire class seemed to agree on as a hero and ask for specific traits,  characteristics, or deeds which make that person from the list a hero.


      Moving away from class discussion and back to lecture mode…
    1. Reflection :  With both the individually generated definition and now the class-generated hero characteristic definition, ask your students to do the following:
      1. Read both note cards silently to themselves.
      2. Arrive at who, specifically, they would name as a “Hero” based on the two definitions.
      3. Have the students write the names of those two heroes at the top of the specific note cards, i.e. based on the individual definition created at the beginning of the lesson, who fits that specific definition?  Likewise, who fits the agreed-upon class definition?  Are they the same person?


    1. Blogging Homework:  Ask your students to share a story or compose a hero essay about one or both of their specific heroes named on their note cards. This homework assignment may be tailored by the instructor with options including ideas like…
      1. Compare and Contrast:  Write an essay comparing and contrasting the two heroes that came out of the activity.  Example:  Real Life versus Celebrity Heroes 
      2. Transformation:  Write an essay discussing how your views on “what is a hero” may or may not have changed based on the group activity and discussion.


    1. Quaker Shares:   After the homework assignment is complete, bring the class together later in the week to read aloud select essays.
    2. Other options:  Peer editing sessions can be used before posting essays to Stage of Life .
    3. Resources :  Visit for additional resources on heroes.
    4. Contextual Tie-In:   The above lesson can be incorporated as an activity into virtually every novel or history lesson, esp. if there is a strong “hero” theme in the unit text (or anti-hero theme).  While this lesson can be very engaging and fun as a stand-alone activity, using it as a bridge to discuss a larger text and themes will be quite rewarding.


For comments or questions about this lesson, please contact us directly at

Also, please tell your students about our monthly writing contest for high school students and college students.

E-Mail Eric Thiegs !

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